Are You Not Entertained?
That is the quote from a certain Ridley Scott movie of the last decade, but it most certainly applied to tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones. Now, I have been enjoying the last two weeks of the show as it has laid the groundwork for what should be an amazing season. However, it has not gone unnoticed that certain quarters of the Internet have been vocal in their disappointment in all things, including the past few early episodes of Game of Thrones. But if they are still unhappy after this blockbuster episode that concluded with Daenerys Targaryen finally making good on that belated promise of FIRE AND BLOOD, then they are as hopelessly lost as the slave traders of Astapor. Yeah, that’s right Astapor King Cleon, how do you like the curve of her royal throne now? Because I bet it freaking burns.
Before we get into all the greatness that was the end of this week’s episode, let us also bend the knee to the rest of this already classic Thrones episode.
The show begins on the cliffhanger from last week where the once proud-and-mighty Jaime Lannister lent a helping hand to Brienne of Tarth…and then had it promptly cut off. Love or hate Jaime, he has a resilience and strength of personality that makes him far more likable than these Bolton bastards who are forcing him to ride with his own hand hanging around his neck. When he later tries to use his weakness as an opportunity to challenge them to a fight, they bravely fight a cripple who has lost his sword hand by ganging up on him four to one. Already a broken man and they still fear the Kingslayer? Say what you will about Jaime, but he always loved fair fights. He even beat one of his own men for ruining his duel with Ned Stark. For all his suicidal bravado though, he is at least winning over Brienne as another Jaime fangirl. She chews him out for sulking and “whining like a woman,” but she is clearly seeing there is more than his silver tongue. Jaime is taking the first steps of his new life this week, even if they consist of him dragging his stump through the Westerosi mud.
Meanwhile, shenanigans are afoot in King’s Landing. In an interesting scene not entirely from the book, Varys meets with the other Lannister brother who is as equally miserable. Forced into the unglamorous position of Master of Coin and still smarting from his facial scars, Tyrion confronts everybody’s favorite Eunuch in search of proof for his sister’s treachery. Varys is an interesting cat this time. As someone who has been relatively quiet the last three episodes, I have been waiting to see his true reactions to the Battle of the Blackwater. While genuinely grateful for Tyrion’s leadership, which saved the city from Stannis and his Fire Priestess who Varys fears, the Master of Whispers has been staying mum about the rise in station of his skulking rival, Littlefinger. In this particular scene, he does not shed light on his opinion on that matter, but gives Tyrion and the audience a promise. To the horror of many, Peter Dinklage has been relegated to the background thus far in Season 3, but things are changing.
To prove the point, Varys finally reveals to Tyrion how he lost his own royal hand. When he was but a boy, he was sold as a slave to a sorcerer. The sorcerer took Varys’s manhood and fed it to some dark, ancient god in the flames. Worse still, the voice of that horrifying deity spoke back from the flames. While that is from the book, what follows is not. Varys reveals that he waited decades to rise in prominence from a street rat on another continent to a member of the Small Council in King’s Landing. And he never forgot what that magician took from him. Inside a box of Varys’s keeping, one that ominously features air/feeding holes on its side, sits a man who looks to have wasted away for years. The voice with which he summoned seemingly demonic forces is silenced forever between his tightly sewn lips. “Vengeance will be yours in time.” But really, the show is announcing: Be patient. We are starting to cook now.
The first big revelation of the episode is that Theon Greyjoy is not going home anytime soon. Aided by a mysterious boy who claims to work for his sister Yara in the last two episodes, Theon is forced to confront a few hard truths. First, in the dungeons of where he thought his sister to be, he finally acknowledges his real father died in King’s Landing. Ned Stark may have hostaged him as a boy, but he raised him to be an honorable man. In return, Theon sided with a father who could barely stand to look at his own failings in his son’s face. Theon has murdered children for this pathetic excuse of a parent and the only place he seems to truly love, the mythical Winterfell, smolders as a result. But that is all secondary to the other hard truth…that this strange boy really is the little bastard that dying Northerner warned of last week. Instead of bringing Theon to his dear little sister, he has deposited Theon back into the hands of his torturers, thereby making his illusionary escape from last week one seriously deep mind f**k. It is a wonderfully short scene, as it earns pathos back for Theon after he did so much evil last season. We still want to see Theon redeem himself, because at the end of the day he is basically the lost Stark. But it is too late for Theon, whether with his own worthless father or the Northerners he betrayed. Theon is a man with no future at this point. Especially in the twisted hands of that kid.
Back at King’s Landing, Varys finally does begin making moves in regards to his rival’s meteoric rise. Littlefinger’s presence, though absent this week, is strongly felt. In a few dropped lines from the previous episode, it was revealed that Littlefinger is going to wed Lysa Arryn of the Vale and unite Cat’s own sister (who missed their dad’s funeral!) behind the Lannisters. While in the short-run it seems good for the side Varys has chosen, the Eunuch is already making plans to displace the would-be Lord of Harrenhal. In a nice meeting with Ros that begins with more jokes about Podrick Payne: The Libertine Squire, it quickly becomes about Sansa Stark. Despite going to marry Sansa’s nutty aunt, Littlefinger still has designs on the daughter of his one-and-only love. Charting a ship with two feather beds, Varys and Ros quickly deduce what auburn haired beauty the second bed is for. On a personal aside, Ros is speaking far too freely about the man who united the Lannisters and Tyrells off-screen. I am just saying as a warning to this TV-only character that Littlefinger will have little use for prostitutes in the Vale. She better start learning to be a bit quieter before she finds herself on the cutting room floor. Under Littlefinger’s dagger.
Speaking of the Tyrells and Lannisters, Varys’s next visit is to the Queen of Thorns. Oh, how I love Diana Rigg in this show. When Varys approaches her with pleasantries, she simply shoots him down. “Is this how seduction begins?” Actually, yes. While Lady Olenna may be right to point out that neither of them are quite equipped for the romantic dance these days, it is still a will-they-or-won’t-they charade being performed. Varys wishes to align himself with the Tyrells by courting Sansa away from Littlefinger’s clutches. As Varys wisely notes, Sansa will be heir to Winterfell (or what’s left of it) if Robb Stark is killed in the war. Her name is the key to ruling the northern half of the continent. Should Littlefinger spirit her away to the Vale, eventually he will use her as a power chip. Olenna agrees that Sansa is an interesting person, if as at least a pawn. I am still not convinced though that this union between the Spider and the Thorn will be consummated, considering Olenna and company have already been talking to Littlefinger since sometime halfway through last season (we have just not seen the breadth of their agreements). Still, it is a hopeful sign for Sansa when Margaery Tyrell shows up to woo her as a sister. Margaery, always the cool customer who wrapped Joffrey around her finger this episode, seems to genuinely like Sansa. Sure, she is setting Sansa up to be Loras’s beard in Highgarden, but that may not be so cruel compared to Joffrey. Why Margaery seemed perfectly happy as Renly’s royal beard and it is (again) preferable to Joffrey.
Which is ironic, as Cersei is infuriated by how well the betrothed couple is hitting it off. At Royal Sept of Baelor, Margaery easily convinced Joffrey to be her arm candy as she greets an adoring crowd. Still fearful of a people who tried to rip him to limbs last season, Joffrey gathers what little courage he has to wave to his suddenly adoring public. Full bellies from Highgarden’s bountiful bread tends to do that (mind you they were starving because Highgarden cut them off when they were on Team Renly, but eh….). Cersei is so jealous of Margaery, she goes to dear old Tywin and gets an even chillier reception than Tyrion. Once more, Tywin is curiously quiet as he scribbles cryptic letters down while a child waits. As the most arrogant of Lannisters, which is like being shortest hobbit, Cersei demands that Tywin respect her more than her brothers. Gosh, why won’t you confide in me, daddy?! Tywin confides all right when he just rips her to shreds for letting Joffrey run wild. She tries to shirk responsibility and say that it is not her fault she spoiled her little sociopath rotten. Why, you should try controlling the incest baby! “I will,” Tywin says with the kind of authority that sends chills up a spine. Tyrion has slapped Joffrey. Cersei has slapped Joffrey. I have a good feeling that Tywin will not only slap the brat king, but also give him the kind of abuse one usually reserves for a Chris Brown concert.
Which brings us to the events that truly made this episode amazing. The thing about lording abusive power is that you really need to have it. As Varys said in so many words last season, power is just a shadow on the wall and only resides where men believe it to be. Take Caster’s Keep. Caster is an ugly old cuss who rapes his daughters and feeds his sons to Whitewalkers. The Night’s Watch only use him as a resource because he can offer shelter and tips, but he is little more than a snitch. One whose worth only exists if men believe it is there. This ragtag group of leftover “Rangers” has just buried another friend. A man whose watch is over. They are starving, cold and waiting for death’s icy blue eyes to lock onto them at any moment. So, insulting them constantly and feeding them breadcrumbs is probably not the smartest move. In the kind of impotent rage that I thought only Joffrey was capable of, Caster pulls a knife on his “guests” when one calls him a bastard (gold star to the commenter who can guess which Christopher Nolan movie this Crow is from!). Talk about bringing a knife to a Caesarian execution. The most hungry cowards guts Caster like one of his pigs and even stab Lord Commander Mormont when he intervenes! It is an amazing scene of complete societal breakdown as the supposed men of order turn into savages on one another. Lord Mormont does not even get any last words as he tries to strangle his killer to death…Alas, he bleeds out before finishing the job. It devolves into Lord of the Flies, right down to the most nasty of the watchmen hunting “Piggie.” Luckily, Sam has his first good idea in three seasons when he grabs Gilly and her crying babe to hightail it out of the joint. Sam turns almost brave when he makes the smart decision to run away. In a plotline that has been boiling for four episodes, the snow really hit the fan this week and left viewers breathless in a sequence that wasn’t even the highlight of the hour!
This takes us back to Daenerys. Dressed in her most mesmerizingly blue cloak, Dany cuts the image of a royal sea flooding onto the hot sands of Astapor. She has come to trade Drogon for those 8,000 Unsullied. It is likely not much of a twist for anyone who has noticed Dany’s mothering of her dragons last season, but things did not go in Cleon’s favor. There is a reason Dany’s nickname is Stormborn. And it was a storm of anger that came out of her when she revealed she knew every misogynistic word this old fool has said. ”Valyrian is my mother tongue,” she warns the moron before proving that dragons are no slaves. Using the gold whip that leased all the power of Astapor to the Mother of Dragons, she orders her army of slaves to kill all their masters and free any remaining in chains. Oh and Drogon? Kill this chump. Thanks, kiddo.
In the bloody aftermath of Dany’s Revenge, Ser Jorah Mormont may finally realize his Khaleesi does not have the gentle heart he thought. She proved herself a true Targaryen and did in 10 minutes what Spartacus couldn’t do in three seasons over at Starz: Destroy a slaving empire. She frees the Unsullied and simultaneously wins their obedience as she goes to war with all the remaining Slaver Cities in the world. On a personal note, this reviewer had the fortune to see Emilia Clarke on stage in Broadway’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s this week. Say what you will about the play’s (novella-accurate) downer tone, but she was fine as a darker, meaner Holly Golightly. So much so that it is a bit jarring to see the actress with brunette hair and a winning smile. Because Daenerys Stormborn does not smile. Not even while she is smiting her enemies like an Old Testament plague.
There were other great elements this week. We saw some more of Bran climbing trees in his dreams and Arya have a satisfying confrontation with the Hound….before cutting short until next week. But it is all really secondary to the amount of crazy action that went down. Theon is in the belly of the beast, potentially for the rest of his unpleasant life; Lord Mormont is murdered and the Night’s Watch may as well call themselves “Jack’s Savages;” And Dany did more to liberate the “Free People” than all of the Wildling boasting in the world. Plus, Drogon got to go Dragon-Fishin’ on a dude’s face.
This is not only the best episode thus far this year, it is easily one of the best episodes the series has ever had. All of the subplots were paced evenly and, other than Arya’s quick teaser, paid off in amazingly satisfying ways.
The biggest compliment that I can give the episode is its ending. I have reviewed quite a few shows for Den of Geek. I am usually restless for them to end so that I can start pounding away at the keyboard like it is a daughter-loving Wildling in need of a blade. But not Game of Thrones and especially not this week. When the hour was up, I looked at my watch in disbelief that the story is over. It will have to be another week before I see more of Jaime and Brienne’s Road Trip from Hell. It will be another week until I see whether Sansa ever gets wise to how she is being used by every faction in King’s Landing (though I’d rather be used by the Tyrells than the family that gave us “The Rains of Castamere.”) And it will be a week to see the fallout of Caster’s Keep and Astapor.
Until then, rest assured there will be more fire and blood to come.